A carnival of self-expression for the young

Sydney Shiotani considers herself an artist. The 8-year-old gripped a brown coloring pencil, her electric green nail polish glistening in the sun, and began etching her very own masterpiece on a white card stock.

Huddled over her workstation, she adorned the card with heart-shaped embellishments and finished the piece by drawing an ivy-like border -- featuring petite leaves sketched with a gel pen.

"I'm done!" she declared. "Can I do another one?"

She did. And beside her Sunday afternoon were dozens of other children doing the same at the multicultural trading cards station -- just one of many workshops and performances that make up the annual Children's Festival of the Arts, a daylong celebration of arts and culture in Hollywood.

The free event, held at Paramount Pictures and presented by the Hollywood Arts Council, was a veritable artistic carnival. There were Japanese taiko drums, face paintings, puppet making, Chinese scroll making and mariachi music, to name a few.

With budget cuts often forcing schools to scale back offerings in art, the festival is an important event for children to express their creative sensibilities, said Nyla Arslanian, president of the community-based organization.

"This isn't about kids saying, 'Buy me this! Buy me this! Buy me this!' " Arslanian said. "Here they get to be creative. There are very few opportunities for kids to have free hands-on art events with professional artists. And they can do it while learning about different cultures -- that's important for them to learn, because we live in L.A. Diversity is the air we breathe."

And exposure to various cultures wasn't simply visual. The Tom Bozigian Trio performed a medley of Armenian songs as the crowd, seated under a tent, looked on and clapped. Then Tom, with the help of his wife, Sheree, even taught a few willing participants a few Armenian dance moves.

"Cha cha cha, cha cha cha," he ordered like a drill sergeant as the volunteers struggled to mirror his coordinated foot movements.

"Stamp three times with your right foot. Then turn with your left to the center."

But this wasn't an event only for children. Parents got in on the action too. Shiotani's parents, Kipp and Jennifer, didn't travel from Northridge to watch Sydney enjoy all the fun. They dabbled with the supplies and made their own trading cards. Over at the puppet-making station, parents helped their children glue pieces of yarn onto the fabrics or took hold of the scissors when it came time to trim something.

"It's a way to spend time with my kids and be creative," said Patty Wong-Smith, 41, of Pacific Palisades, who came with her daughters, Skylar, 8; Shaelyn, 6; and Tierney, 4. "They have a vivid imagination and events like this allow them to explore all that."



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